I don’t know what this one’s about so stop asking

I lie in bed and work. I work harder alone. I can focus. Sometimes there are no other thoughts when I focus. Then you come home – for lunch, for checks – you’re smiley. It’s not fake smiley, but I can’t help thinking that it is a little. Like your smiles might rub off on me (they do until you leave the room). So I say HI real bright so you believe me. I don’t know that you do. It’s like when I was crying and I say I’m fine and you say okay. It’s so much easier to say okay, than it is to ask what’s wrong. Because I don’t know what’s wrong, actually. I fell and I cried. Not because I fell, but because it reminded me I was sad and lonely, and a bit pathetic. You came out when I didn’t come back inside for a while to check up on me and you were genuinely upset. I didn’t want you to console me, to touch me. I wanted to cry alone. Cry ugly. Let the dog lick my tears and snot.

Someone told me I should go volunteer. Volunteering takes us out of ourselves (I’ve done it; it doesn’t). It’s like what Madonna said when she had Lourdes – how she had to stop worrying about her own shit. But like Madonna and the volunteering, you come home, you have alone time, and you don’t stop thinking.

Some friends ask if there’s anything they can do. But there isn’t. They want to spend time. But I don’t. I don’t want to talk. So I feel guilt when they’re around and I can’t answer, or it takes SO MUCH EFFORT to respond. Guilt is another one of the things you think about after the volunteering, after Lourdes.

I became an atheist recently because I realised it was all bullshit made up to control our ethics, so we’d stop killing each other. It hasn’t changed anything for me. I feel just as much in hell as I did before, thanks.

There was this time. Not now, naturally.

I wore my dad’s wedding suit, all lovingly hand-stitched, on two major occasions:

The first time was when i was 16, a school dressup, I went as a member of the mafia. Not mine, necessarily, because as far as I knew, nobody had been whacked by my family, although there have been a number of dubious, extreme accidents over the years. With my dad’s wedding suit, I wore the requisite hat and machine gun.

The other time I wore the suit was not for dress-ups, it was simply a matter of choice on my first day at university. I was 8 months short of my 18th birthday, and extreme weight loss gave me few options to wear. I didn’t want to say that I was straight-outta-highschool, not too hardcore, either. I could have gone Goth, but that wasn’t my thing, so I went Mod instead, before I knew exactly what that meant. Thanks to Google, I know know now that I looked the part (without the hat and machine gun, of course). But I just wanted to stand out a little, not be one of the nice girls, benign and forgettable. I wanted to be memorable, but only for the right reasons – ‘cept I didn’t know what  those reasons were back then..

The way I reminisce over those days, 31 years later, it didn’t feel planned so much, but it certainly marked my entrance to a new place I called home for a couple of years. I even changed my name, from Josephine to Jo. Not a huge shift, but it marked my break from family, from all the other Josephs and Josephines.

That was thirty-one years ago.


And still, I wake up every morning, and wonder how I should dress so I can go out into the world a little less forgettable and benign than some, a rebel. A Jo in her dad’s wedding suit, except it doesn’t fit me anymore. Most anorexics get fat eventually anyway, thanks to yoyo-dieting, the rest just die like Caren Carpenter (my hero at the time – I told mum how I was so sad I couldn’t be as skinny as her and she just gave me a fat lip).

Thirty-one years ago, I was having so much fun. I was drunk, stoned, studying, barely-studying, fucking, tripping, putting dishwashing liquid into the moat at Deakin Uni just to turn it into a stream of bubbles, running around with bikies who looked after me because I was the kid. We were so stupid, so high, writing poetry and songs, like “medication time”, when it was our turn for the bong. We made music on walls with wooden spoons, with lids. We wrote them on the walls of a mystical house in Pakington Street in Geelong. It was a magic time.

We also threw up on ourselves, became paranoid after eating mushrooms, forgot the dates in history exams and slept with each other’s boyfriends, by accident, but it was ok, as long as we looked after each other, understood each other’s parental strifes, and stayed ahead of the news, knew about politics and books. Everything mattered.

We were fucking fighters when we weren’t too stoned to get out of bed.

I remember in the 80s when there was one of those financial crises and all people cared about was the extra tax they had to pay, not the greater good that their extra tax was serving. They were fucking self-serving big-L Liberals. We were Socialists with torn jeans in 1987, because we couldn’t afford another pair of jeans. Scum. Hippies. Students. This was pre-grunge.

I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this. Those people, MY BEST FRIENDS, what the hell happened to them? Where are they? I barely remember their names, but they meant THE WORLD to me. I’d do anything for and with them. I miss them so much.

How does friendship that is SO MEANINGFUL just turn to sand on a 90 mile beach?

It’s lonely having no meaning, no addictions. You also lose the friends who said they didn’t like being around when you had the addictions. They forgot how boring you were without the booze.

What they don’t tell you about getting sober, about losing all the addictions (because they are losses), is that life doesn’t necessarily get better. Life just becomes something you remember and long for. It becomes so boring. It becomes something you endure. Having the privilege to stay home while I’m withdrawing from old meds and going on new meds isn’t lost on me. So privileged. SO PRIVILEGED. The problem with having manic-depression (the best kind if you can keep the manic state going as long as possible) and quitting smoking, booze and everything is that you’re just left with the depression (because, in all honesty, the manic bit doesn’t stick around long, it’s the depression that lasts the longest).

We used to have this joke – “I did (fill in the gap with your own dirty secret) and I turned out ok”. But we didn’t.

WE DIDN’T turn out ok. How many Gen-Xers take anti-depressants, Diazepam, go onto Tinder even though they’re in a “monogamous” relationship, over eat, under exercise, over exercise, watch Netflix for days on end, or drink to oblivion to forget all of those small-l liberal socialist conversations that turned into little more than white picket fences and mortgages and a tonne of dirty nappies?

Naomi Klein is one of us, but she had a decent start, with academic parents in the union movement. My dad was a commie, like, literally, but when he came here, to Australia, he tossed out his beliefs out of fear. He never crossed a picket line, of course, but he stopped going to meetings – that’s how you got deported in the 60s and 70s. So he just gave it up. He gave himself up – that’s how I see him. We talked though. A lot. About the movement. I was encouraged to read 1984, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm and (without dad’s knowledge, Fear of Flying – you know, for a well-rounded education). We talked about what was important. Mum didn’t get it. She just cared about whether anyone heard us arguing.

One time, my friend Nat and I did acid and stayed home, just your average Saturday night. And as the sun rose onto a gloomy smog-filled West Footscray vista, we noted all the boxes, the bits, we buy a big bit to fill with our little bits – souvenirs, babies, bluetooth speakers, cats and dogs, plants that die, smart TVs that you replace as often as your plants die, photos of people whose names we no longer remember.

So anyway, I’m depressed. I have manic depression. I am bi-polar. I am not anxious – I hate that word. Anxiety is controllable, Depression is not. It’s hard wired. I’ve been taking medication now for around 15 years – effexor, lexapro, prozac, blah blah blah – I don’t even know what I’m taking now because I was sort forcibly taken to my shrink (sorta forcibly because I’d just taken 4 diazepam so I didn’t make much of a fuss anyway). Jeff now controls my meds, so I don’t know what they all are. I have a carer, like an old person in a home. Isn’t that just everything a married couple longs to become – the carer and the cared.

I’m possibly going to hospital soon – you know the ones: Melbourne Private, Whyndam (they let you visit with your dogs), Essendon Psych – to clear my system of everything so we can start again. My understand of meds is that it takes around 2-3 months to notice significant change. Is that how long I’ll be in hospital without my dogs and cats and laptop and phone and music? Part of me feels a sense of relief be because I need some headspace. But then there’s the rest of it. What do I do? I don’t like colouring. I don’t like people, I don’t like being told when to go to sleep. At least having a home carer (aka husband – geez he must be SO rapt), I’ll be used to it, and I can refuse his demands.

I feel sad, and freaked out. I mean, I read “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Girl Interrupted” and they don’t turn out well for the loud people. And I’m one of the loud people. Do they still give lobotomies?

Carrie Fisher was open about her fight with all forms of depression and told Oprah in 2011 about how she found ECT treatment to be the best thing she ever did.

“Some of my memories will never return. They are lost – along with the crippling feeling of defeat and hopelessness. Not a tremendous price to pay.”

But she killed herself, despite it all.

So did these talented people who despite their darkness managed to do wonderful things and leave legacies:
Robin Williams, 63
Hunter S. Thompson, 67
Ernest Hemingway, 61
Anthony Bourdain, 61
Kurt Kobain, 27
Chris Cornell, 52
Hunter S. Thompson, 68
Sylvia Plath, 30

I’m not a victim, my stories got me here, got me writing this. But I do feel alone. Hardly anyone has reached out to me. Depression is hard to talk to people about. It’s so negative and pretty boring. I even mentioned that I was disappointed that they hadn’t reached out. I don’t even know what I would do if they did reach out? Maybe I’d just want to sit in the same room, silently, smile at them now and then, and continue what we were doing – reading, drawing, knitting, playing with a Rubik’s cube, snuggling with the dog, checking Instagram, creating a zine. If they want to know how I am, they should read this.

But maybe hospital will be better – a bunch of strangers and no expectations. Nobody to disappoint or be disappointed by.

I feel bad, sad and guilt. There’s a business to run, and I’m dumping it all on Jeff and everyone else. There you go.

Sometimes I think it would be easier if I weremnt around at all. But I don’t want to die by choice. I did once. But that involved booze and pills. But I want to do something, something that doesn’t involve upsetting people. Something that leaves a mark, just like the first day of uni when I wore my dad’s wedding suit and looked like a Mod. If I don’t do something, then what is the point of this mortal fucking coil? You know? Because this just isn’t enough, despite what the shrinks and coaches tell me when they say I should write a gratitude journal. Fuck that. I need more but, right now, I don’t have more. I just don’t care.

That time I wanted a bee tattooed on my boob

When I was 17, I hung out with a bunch of people who rode motorbikes and had tattoo parlours, as we called them back before they were art studios. One guy’s girlfriend was in the middle of a major project, a peacock that covered her back and shoulder. It was epic.

I just wanted a bee on my boob.

The tattooist, who thought of me as his kid sister, said no. So I didn’t get a bee on my boob when I was 17. In fact, I didn’t get my first tattoo until my early 30s, and I remember thinking, during those years in between, that I was really glad I never got the boob bee.

Now, closer to 50, and with a soft, fleshy landscape dotted in blue, red, green, pink and yellow ink, the truth is, I wouldn’t care if I got the boob bee. Granted it would be blotchy and stretched, and as faded as a pair of jeans, and it really had no meaning, but it would have been a true mark of my earliest rebellion – so much more interesting that memories of anorexia and whatnot.

The thing about tattoos is that you should never regret them. For reals.

I remember watching Miami Ink and everyone had a freaking story they wanted commemorated by a tattoo, and it drove me a little nuts. So when my tattooists have asked me, over the years, what my tattoos are about, I always want to come up with something truly significant, but all I’ve got is:

“So there’s this illustration, and I think it’s pretty.”


“My friend wanted to.”

I mean, does everything have to mean something? Is there anything wrong with a tattoo that has no meaning? You know, tattoo nihilism.

What’s wrong with just something that makes you smile, or laugh, or just reminds us that we were dickheads once?

People told me I would regret my tattoos, that my saggy tattooed arms would look like shit.

Even Cindy Ray, Australia’s first tattooed lady, warns people about aging tattoos.

“Tattoos look great when you’re young, but they too get old.”

Cindy Ray – Australia’s first Tattooed Lady was a carnival sideshow.

Well, Cindy, let me tell you that the body ages, parts will sag, with or without tattoos, so don’t worry about it.

The thing about tattoos is that, ironically, they’re temporary. That is, the moment is temporary. However, the thing they remind you of is permanent – they remind you that you were drunk and dumb, totally into cartoons or skulls, loved the colour pink, loathed your mum, collected buttons, had a best friend who was bound to be in your life FOREVER, or were hooning around with your other, soon to be middle-aged, friend who wanted a matching piece of ink. Or maybe you just wanted to be badass.

One of my favourite tattoos isn’t that old but it’s faded as fuck. It’s across my belly and ribs and its condition serves as a reminder of the kilos I’ve lost, and gained, and lost, and gained. There’s a line of text from my favourite childhhood book that says: blahblablahblablahblahblah

Part of this tattoo looks so terrible! Should the tattooist have recommended a different placement? Maybe. A different font? Sure. Do I care? Not for a second. I remember the weeks leading up to the day I got it – I was so nervous. This was before girls in Melbourne were getting tatts on their wrists, sleeves or chests. I thought I was crossing over to a different world (I wasn’t), and I was about to change (I didn’t). I have no regrets at all.

Of course, there’s the unwritten rule that you should NEVER EVER get your partner’s name tattooed on your body. NEVER EVER. It will only lead to divorce and heartache – not regret, necessarily, but you don’t want to mess with that fate juju. Even after 24 years married to the same guy who I adore, I’m not game to try that because who doesn’t remember Johnny Depp’s Wynona Forever? That crazy cat.

Johnny Depp’s Winona Forever tattoo – before and after

I kind of like the idea of a regrettable tattoo. Not that I wish I had the name of an ex-lover tattooed on my lower back or anything. I mean…

But do I wish I got that boob bee back in 1987? A little. Although, it still lives with me, almost as if I did get it.


Le Questions to Ask Le Self

So I’m around the middle of my life right now (let’s hope) and it’s making me think of things done and things not done. I’ve added to my bucket list today but also found this terrific series of questions that I think we would all benefit from asking ourselves. So here goes.

  • What if you were to die tomorrow? What would you wish you could do before you die?
  • What would you do if you had unlimited time, money and resources?
  • What have you always wanted to do but have not done yet?
  • Any countries, places or locations you want to visit?
  • What are your biggest goals and dreams?
  • What do you want to see in person?
  • What achievements do you want to have?
  • What experiences do you want to have / feel?
  • Are there any special moments you want to witness?
  • What activities or skills do you want to learn or try out?
  • What are the most important things you can ever do?
  • What would you like to say/do together with other people? People you love? Family? Friends?
  • Are there any specific people you want to meet in person?
  • What do you want to achieve in the different areas: Social, Love, Family, Career, Finance, Health (Your weight, Fitness level), Spiritual?
  • What do you need to do to lead a life of the greatest meaning?

That reminds me of a book I read a little while ago: Die Empty by Todd Henry

“Don’t go to your grave with your best work inside of you. Choose to die empty.”

I’m a progressive wife, but…

I’m a progressive wife, even more so a progressive woman, but… I like to shop, and when I do, I prefer to do it without my husband, which makes me just like my mother, who is Sicilian, was born during WW2, and believes that men should never wash dishes.

Let me explain.

I was born in 1969, pretty much the best year of the 20th century. It was the final year of the era, when people still wore minis and bell bottoms and smoked weed on the streets of Haight Ashbury, and the Beatles were still a band.

I mean, in the 80s I spelled women womyn. And I was so progressive that I didn’t think the university needed a womyn’s room and was happy to piss in the boys toilets. How’s that for forward-thinking, gender-cracking neutrality?

Skip forward to the 90s and I got engaged. It may sound like a backwards step, but refused to be tied down by the title fiancée. I could barely say the word girlfriend or boyfriend.

When Jeff and I got married, he became “the man I married”. I never considered changing my name, and still haven’t. In fact, I was still so progressive that I didn’t have a bridal shower or hen’s night, and I’m pretty sure I forbade a cock’s night, too.

Skip forward some 48 years and I’m as progressive as a lady preying mantis. But after 23 years with the man I married, I need to understand: when the fuck did I turn into my parents?

You see, despite their unholy lack of touching emotions, I stoke the embers of nostalgia for some elements of their marriage. Like how back in the 80s, when Highpoint became the shopping Mecca in Melbourne’s western suburbs, we used to head over on a Friday night and mum and I would do the rounds of Target, Big W and, hot damn, Myer. We would dump dad the moment we fell under the buzzing fluorescent lights, and we knew exactly where to meet him, and roughly what time to be there. We used our spidey sense back then – no phones, just our spidey sense – and met dad around the main mezzanine of the shopping centre where some kid would be entertaining the masses on the main stage downstairs.

It mostly worked like a charm, and it avoided the aggro of having the old man waiting impatiently outside the shops while mum and I tried on clothes and perfumes.

So to this day I just don’t understand why, WHY women take their partners (and let’s not talk about their children) when they go out shopping.

Grocery shopping, I get. Even targeted shopping – for a birthday present, for example. But for a Friday night browse, there’s nothing quite as sad as seeing a man sitting outside a change room or leaning out the front of a shop for their missus. It’s sad for everyone.

I used to think it was so nice to have Jeff come with me when I was hunting for clothes or shoes. I mean, we’re besties, we’re soulmates, he’s SUPER PROGRESSIVE so he must naturally enjoy it as much as I did, right?

No. Wrong. For three reasons.

  1. They really don’t want to be there.
  2. Most men (like 99% of straight men) have the shittiest judgment. They’ll tell you that you look great in lycra when you clearly don’t.
  3. They’ll guilt you into NOT buying things because you don’t NEED them. They say things like:

“The spices are already in little bags. Why do you need a spice rack?”

                      “What’s wrong with the kitchen tap? It works.”

                     “Don’t you have a black dress?”

                     “Do they dogs really need denim jackets?”

So at the age of 48, I really have come to envy my parents’ shopping habits. Like mum, I don’t want to explain why I need a new spice rack or kitchen tap, or the dozenth black dress or why the dogs need denim jackets to go over their hoodies.

Does this mean I’m, like, an average middle class picket fence woman?

Give me a second to think about it. It only occurred to me as I parked the car outside the Sunshine Plaza a few minutes ago.

What I do know is: Jeff isn’t like my dad. Phew – that’s something I won’t have to deal with at therapy next week. Jeff is also not a typical dude. I mean, he wears feathers in his beautiful beard, and recently glittered it for a drag show he went to.

Jeff. Glitter Beard. Far left.


But in other ways, the dude’s a dude. He hates the suggestion of a suggestion. Takes it as a personal affront. He doesn’t like change (like my dad).

H.A.T.E.S. I.T.

He says things like:

“What’s wrong with the spice rack we have at home? It’s perfectly fine.”

“What’s wrong with the kitchen tap? It works.”

“The dogs need new denim jackets? Do they?”

“You look great in Lorna Jane leggings.”

So I’ve taken to just doing things I need without asking. New spice rack (on its way), new kitchen tap (done), new denim jackets for the dogs (done), new cat(s) (done), new bathtub (coming), landscaped garden (booked).

Growing up, my mother’s biggest complaint about dad was that he never wanted to get anything new done to the house. So if she’d had her way, the kitchen would have more bench space, the front veranda would be tiled, not just a slab of concrete for 30 years. But she never did have her way, despite having full control of the purse strings. She thought it improper to get things done around the house, because THAT was a husband’s duty. You asked  your husband to get the plumber in to fix the shower. And if he didn’t, well, it just didn’t get fixed.

Even today, though, among us progressives, why do we still feel the need to ask them for agreement from our boyfriends/girlfriends/partners/husbands/wives when it comes to making a decision (like picking a new spice rack, cat, dog, kitchen tap, bathtub, garden). In the end, do we really want their opinion if it’s going to oppose ours? Because, just like when you have to go to a party and you really don’t want to go but you know when you get there you’ll have fun and you really do (have fun, that is), making a decision about a thing your partner might say no to just means more angst before you go ahead and do it anyway because you know that after a week, s/he’ll be fine with it.

Mum never did this. Even though she controlled the purse strings. She wouldn’t dare.

But I dare. Because in a world of quadruple mortgages, businesses, no fixed income and no savings, there’s no such thing as money, anyway. So I have vowed to stop arguing over things that I’ve decided I need. I mean, I’m not out there buying a new house on the Amex, or hiring a private jet to take us to the Maldives, am I?

Unless you’re a millionaire, you should totes discuss those things with your partner. But if the decision won’t break the bank or the relationship, I have decided to go forth. Alone. Be warned, Jeff, a new spice rack is on its way.

Friday roundup

Even though I work on Saturdays, it still feels like Friday is the end of the week. I work in our shop for half a day with Jeff and it’s busy but still our fun day! It’s the day when people come and visit with their dogs and love to have a yarn so, yes, even though it’s busy and it’s work, it’s fun.

So Friday always feels like the day before the weekend nevertheless! And that means it’s a planning day.

Having no kids to wrangle means we can sleep in but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. This weekend I plan to:

Learn to use my new Speedball calligraphy set.

Do some wild writing based on my writing coach’s lessons – check out Laurie Wagner’s writing here.

Keep embroidering my first negative space piece. This is my inspiration but let’s see how we go.

Plot out the cat run so the kitties can have fun outside.

Plot out the new veggie patch so dad can start working it for summer. Here’s the raised kit I’m planning to get.

Finally put that Hills Hoist online for someone to take!

Go to the Laverton Market with the family and try not to get a parking ticket!

Most important of all – DO NOT TAKE VALIUM!


On Addiction

I originally wrote this in April 2015. I’ve revised it in light of Chris Cornell’s suicide. Vale.

ACT 1: When I was 17, I got drunk for the first time along Melbourne’s Yarra River. It’s where all students went at the end of the year to forget their high-school woes and to cut loose.

Someone threw up on a cop car (LEGEND!) and I pashed a lot of boys.

The thing is, a lot of us Catholic school girls, especially us wogs, grew up in tortuous communities where EVERY SINGLE step was measured by our parents, neighbours, people we met at a wedding one time, and people who knew our mother and father but we had not seen since we were ten. And either despite this, or in spite of this, we Rebelled with a capital R. I knew lots of Aussie girls who rebelled against being a teenager, but us wog kids, well we rebelled against so much more.

What is incredibly sad is that, at 48, I’m still rebelling. Or perhaps just reeling. What was Chris Cornell reeling from when he chose to hang himself instead of heading back on stage, then back to his family? What made him so sad that he didn’t see an alternative?

Guilt and Fear do not stop just because you get older. Sadness becomes deeper, more tonal, filled with regret, missed opportunities, death.

ACT 2: Being high is better than, well, not being high.

Some people hold onto their youth by listening to the same music or wearing the same clothes or even holding onto the same hairstyle as that time when they were most happy in their lives. Some of us hold onto the greatest moments, and we mythologise them.

I mythologise drinking, getting high, acting out.

Being high makes me think I’m a better writer, a victim, funny, a great friend and wife, more interesting, just more…

And because of this…

Sometimes it feels like I have no past (or just no weekend).

ACT 3: We didn’t have digital cameras in the 80s and I had no money while I was at uni, so that means I have no photographic proof of my memories, my most important memories that explain who I am, whether good or bad.

I don’t have proof of:
– My first acid trip where I saw a cicada that was the MOST GIANT FLY I’d ever seen.
– The time Maree and I made a 4-Season diorama in a shoe box (based on the children’s book, The trip).
– The time, in 1987, when a bunch of us chucked a bunch of dishwashing liquid in the Deaking Uni moat.
– The hitch-hiking posts at Deakin
– The house on Packington Street in Geelong with walls covered in graffiti.
– My “tomato” plants in Geelong.
– Anorexia
– Bulimia
– Passing out in public phone booths from not eating.
– Sit ins against HECS in 1986-88
– My purple plastic and flannel-lined raincoat that I picked up in that place on 13th Street near Uni in Eugene.
– The glittery blue bike I bought for a gram of weed in Eugene.
– The first time I met Jeff (although I have a t-shirt from the place where we met)…/

I also don’t see anyone from that time (late 80s). I have no photographic evidence, and a very romantic memory.

My memories of that time are hilarious, though, and it feels like I’m holding on REALLY TIGHT  to a time that wasn’t real, a time that was so fleeting, a time that has no proof. No photos. No friends that still exist (despite Facebook).

So all I remember was a cool chick who lounged and sang and listened to psychedelic music and loved and wrote.
It’s the myth of addiction. That those times were better.
Even now, one month sober, I remember fun nights, solo, drunk, but better. Sobriety isn’t anything. Sobriety forces you to face the things you drank to mask.
So addiction looks best when its mythologised. But the stuff, the things you drank to shove down, it busts its way through the floorboards and says “here I am, now, entertain me.” Depression is bleak. My addictions allowed me to forget the bleakness.
Maybe Chris Cornell was flooded with his truth the other night. Maybe it was too hard to shove it down anymore. Maybe the bleakness he’d cloaked in black returned, as it always does, even after decades of creative success and fandom, a cute family, all the trappings.
I believe that long-term depression, whether caused by addiction or the result of addiction, is permanent, hardwired, and difficult to treat.
Like deep sadness. I see deep sadness when I watch Chris Cornell’s last minutes on stage in Detroit the other night. Despite the trappings, deep sadness is a fucker to manage. Deep sadness seeps into the walls and curtain and can’t be washed out.
So, Chris Cornell is safe now, no longer sad or overwhelmed by fear and addiction. I wish him sweet passage. And to the rest of us, tell someone, don’t be ashamed of depression or addiction. Keep going. I’m sure it gets better.

Cooking for Two on Mothers Day (An Ode)

On Mothers Day, I’m reminded of my childlessness, that I’ve never carried any number of children, that I bled for 8 days every 21 days for almost 30 years for no reason other than my body said so. But then I look to my silly family of six–husband (one so far), dogs (two), and cats (two), and remind myself of the wonder of the Mirena IUD (No. More. Blood.) and smile.

In all fairness though, I might not have any kids, but spending time away from home with my parents is like being around  tween siblings without internet connectivity.

It’s Mother’s Day weekend and we’re at the weekender in Hepburn Springs, our go-to for a bit of solitude. It’s nice here, super low-key save for the cars heading into town (Daylesford) for brunch and a spa treatment, and there’s the odd flock of cockatoos screaming at the heavens. It’s cold enough at this time of the year where we can light a fire and don’t feel guilty about skipping a morning walk. Dad fiddles around with the trees, hacking into bushes and pulling weeds. Today he harvests a bag of olives from the front yard. Jeff and I read on our phones, give the cats our feet to tear up and largely ignore the barking dogs, but make sure to top up the fire. The house is sparse–it’s a weekender, after all–and there’s no cleaning to do, no laundry, no anything. We don’t even have music on because it’s nice to just read and chill after a week of work and to-do lists.

Thing is, mum doesn’t use an iPad, or a smart phone, she doesn’t read anymore and, while she enjoys a soak in the bath, she prefers a shower for its efficiency.

My mother likes to Get. Things. Done. And relaxing quietly is not one of those Things.

Instead, she talks to the animals. My mother doesn’t do silence. So she insists on conversation with the dogs, and when they don’t answer she looks to me and waits for me to answer on their behalf. She remarks about how clean and the tidy the house is, about what she’ll make for dinner, about how she’s happy to make scrambled eggs for mother’s day brekkie instead of going to Cliffys in Daylesford (but I’ve got my eye on a hash brown with aged cheddar). She laughs at the kitten and marvels at her intelligence (trust me, she’s just an average moggy), and tries to catch other, feral, cat as she stalks down the stairs on her way to the litter box. It won’t happen. That cat is not the cuddly kind. She says the dogs are So Elegant in their hoodies (They’ve just had a shave and are freezing. Plus I like to dress them up. Don’t judge!). They do look pretty cute.

My mother stands, a lot, because sitting is frivolous, although she says that it’s to keep warm. Sitting makes her cold. Plus she’s itchy (and needs to go to the doctor to see why she’s so itchy all the time). I go on reading, and when I’ve finished with my cup of tea she swipes it from my fingers before I’ve laid it on the coffee table and takes it into the sink to wash it. She even dries it and puts it away.

There’s no ironing to be done. No grout to clean. No spare room to dust. Dad doesn’t need a clean outfit to wear to the coffee shop or his social club because there isn’t one in Hepburn Springs. Mum’s routine is out of whack, poor love. So she washes every dish as it’s dirtied, and she laughs at the cats and dogs.

I think it must be hard to be the mother of an only child who didn’t have kids.

Mum was the last of her family, and all of her siblings had either died or were married by the time she was born. She lived with a widowed mother, and didn’t learn anything about normal mothering, just that desperation with which my grandmother held onto her because she was her last baby, the one she still had in her womb when her husband died in a bomb blast in the war. My mother was gold to her mother. The last. The only. The most cherished. So she never learned what it was like to be a normal kid.

So when she left her village, in among the linen and cloth nappies, my mother brought regret and guilt with her on the month-long boat ride to Australia, and she’s gripped them both with the strength of fighter. She doesn’t deny it either. She blames her mother’s death on her sudden departure, soon after marriage and childbirth. She regrets leaving. Reckons it’s all her fault.

I would never wish my mother’s mothering on a child. Maybe that’s why I never had kids (although I blame my eggs, actually). There’s far too much anger and sorrow in my mother’s mothering. Oh, and resentment, regret, and a lack of understanding of anything remotely related to kids in Australia.

It’s a little hard for us both on Mother’s Day, I think. Mostly mum, though. She didn’t get that chance to get better at motherhood the second or third time around, and she won’t get the chance to throw all the rules away with grand kids. She wants to indulge someone, many someones (I think), in a way she never could when she was scrimping and saving to pay of the mortgage before she turned 40. Back then she had no money or time to squander on reading anything longer than pulp fiction or an old Italian fashion magazine. She would sometimes spend her bus ride to work re-read the five books she’d come over to Australia with. Mostly, she looked at the regular faces who waited at the bus stop and made up stories about them.

I went to work at the clothing factory with mum when I was 14. I spent the summer in the basement of that factory on Flinders Lane, and 2 hours a day watching the regulars at the bus stops on our way to and from the city and she would tell me who’d missed the bus and who hadn’t changed their shoes or shirt.

Back then, at home, she was like a single mother to an only child, with dad working 80 hour weeks at the factory or with mates at the pub or cafe. There was no time for frivolity, just resentment and rage and the terror that she wouldn’t manage to get everything done before Sunday night.

But with old age comes a little softening, the recognition (perhaps) that there is another way (maybe). She overfeeds the dogs and dances with them. She takes them for walks and indulges them by letting them sleep on the couch in front of the heater. She would make lunch and dinner for us every day if I wanted. She would call and talk for hours, but I’m just too busy to listen. I just want serenity now, because I got so much rage for so long, so I seek the quiet.

My mother tells me how lucky I am to have avoided having kids (geez, thanks mum). She says they’re too much worry. She reminds me of all the travel I’ve done, of all the travel I’ll do, that I’ll never have to cry over a child. She would have been a great nonna, my mum, because she makes her own pasta, still makes Sicilian donuts for St Martins Day, she sings to dusty old Italian tunes, and is an expert seamstress. She would have taught her grand kids how to embroider as though ants with angel wings had sewn the stitches. She didn’t have time to teach me, what with all the preparation for Mondays, but she’s ready to share her gifts now.

I wish I had time for her, but I’m too busy, what with all the preparation for Mondays. I’m too busy seeking silence. I don’t regret not having kids, not at 48, but I do wish I’d given my mother someone, plenty of someones, to share herself with, so she had someone to talk to other than the dogs.


I went a-hunting



I want to become a minimalist (or: Why does my stuff mean so much to me?)

Recently, I watched Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things.(I think you can buy it on itunes or something, but in true minimalist style, I downloaded a torrent version then passed it on).

And it’s kinda rocked my world. On one hand, anyway.

On the other hand, it’s left me wondering why I have so much shit? Why am I keeping it all? Who’s going to get it (or even want it) when I’m gone?

Between us, Jeff have so many collections, most of which are in storage boxes collecting (literal) dust in the garage.

  • Rollerskates that are to big/small/used
  • Rollerskate wheels that we used when we started skating and wouldn’t bother using anymore
  • Rollerskate tools that we don’t need
  • Fabric
  • Rolling Stone Magazine collection (especially with Pearl Jam and Nirvana)
  • Saws, nails, tools I wouldn’t know what to do with
  • Suitcases filled with, actually I have no idea what they’re filled with – their in the roof area of the garage and we don’t go near them
  • Costumes and dress up boxes
  • Jeff’s CDs
  • Containers full of tech bits – cords, cables, computer parts
  • A video machine we don’t use because it’s guts are ripped out (but Jeff will fix it one day)
  • A pool table we haven’t used in 3-4 years
  • A pinball machine I’ve wanted since I was a kid but I never play it (but I own it!!!)
  • Old paint cans
  • Paint tools
  • Spare tiles (just in case we ever break one in the house)
  • Lots of spare things that are going to our spare, I mean, our holiday house
  • Clothing that doesn’t fit but that is super awesome and was super expensive
  • Bikes, including spare bikes, that we don’t ride.
  • Wool and knitting needles
  • Furniture
  • Record Collection
  • Obsolete stereo parts that no longer work
  • Computers the size of a space station
  • String
  • Comic and card collections
  • More nails
  • Old manuscripts for books that have been printed and published
  • Copies of newspapers and magazines with my articles
  • A box of flyers and passes for raves that we’ve been to or have been involved with
  • Boxes and boxes of photos – the old printed kind.
  • Shoes. Seriously. Shoes. (But what if a friend needs a pair of super high heeled shoes? What if she can’t rely on me?)

We’re not hoarders, but here’s our garage (a 4 car garage that has not seen a car since we moved in here 8 years ago).

You get the (very blurry) picture(s). Right?

All this stuff is so heavy, you know? It feels heavy but I don’t know why. I mean, it’s in the garage, or in boxes, or a cupboard. As long as I don’t look at it, what’s the problem? How does it affect me from day to day?

I don’t know. That’s why I’m writing about it. Writing helps me process it all.

So why do I hold onto this stuff?

It’s not that I hate owning things or that I find the idea of ownership to be too middle-class or whatever. For example, Jeff and I love art, and we surround ourselves with it. I have no problem with that, and our love of art has spawned a love of art in Holly, our “adopted” adult daughter. So that can’t be bad. I feel as though we’ve passed on something positive to her, and that’s super nice.

So do we keep stuff because of ego? You know, I’ve got all this stuff, how cool am I? (Hey check out Jo and Jeff; they have the coolest XYZABC).

Maybe. But I’m not sure (lemme check that one with my therapist).

What if I hold onto everything because I’m holding onto my past? I think we’re on a winner with this idea.

Is it that the only way I’m going to live on is through the things I own? Are my possessions the only way of recounting my history when I’m gone?

You see, as we get older, most of us have kids, so we have an audience for our stories, and someone to leave our stuff to. We tell them about what we wore, we show them the VIP passes from gigs, we give them gold earrings that once belonged to our great, great, great grandmother (yes, seriously). We pass on a book, and show them photos of who we were in our 20s, 30s, 40s, when we looked so AMAZING. And they lament that we got rid of the raver pants and (some of) our vinyl collection.

If I’m going to be honest, this is what it’s about.

Other than Jeff, I don’t have anyone to leave my crap to when I’m gone. No kids. No close relatives who I would burden with the old magazines and unloved craft accessories. Holly won’t really want my magazine collection and spare wool. Would she?

I always loved my mother’s button tin. I’ve even raided it in recent times to replace crappy buttons on good clothing. Just yesterday, mum gave me her great great great grandmother’s earrings, as well as my baby earrings. There was something truly beautiful in them, in knowing who they belonged to (even if neither of us had ever met my great great great grandmother). But the knowledge  that I have a history that spans generations has value, even if it will end with me.

So what of the collections in the garage? They’re not gold, or diamonds, or even (Jeff’s mum’s) awesome Avon collection.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent more than half my linen closet, my clothes and shoes to the op shop or the bin. It was a superb feeling. I have no regrets. Anything that didn’t make me feel great went off.

But I fear regret (is that double regret?). What if I get rid of something and regret it later? Even if I sold it and made money, I might want it, or show it to someone.

I got rid of a TONNE of books at a garage sale around eight years ago when we moved into this house – many of them sold, many went to some organisation who gives books to people who can’t afford them (this was pre-Kindle, when fiction books in Australia were $26.95 apiece). I’ll admit that it took me a long time to get over it. Jeff did the same when he left the States. He left a lot behind when he moved over here in 1994. Now that his mum and step-dad have passed and he probably won’t see a lot of his stuff ever again, I wonder how he feels about that? Does he lament a lost past (his army uniforms?).

So what am I supposed to do with SO MUCH STUFF that keeps me feeling trapped?

Would having an organised, minimalist garage matter? Would getting rid of the unplayed piano that houses art books, sculptures and other memorabilia change my life? Does owning all this stuff actually fuck with my life?

I know there’s something super rewarding about getting rid of things. I know because I’ve done it SO MANY TIMES. But why do I feel this grand need to do it, once or twice a year? I have a friend whose home is filled with memorabilia: crucifixes, art, ceramics that she’s made and that she’s collected, etc – and I LOVE her home. There’s something comforting in the clutter and chaos.

What if, one day, someone finds the same comfort in my clutter and chaos?

What if, one day when I’m gone, someone finds a way of getting to know me through my stuff. Do I really need minimalism? Or am I looking for a way to hone what I have so that it has meaning? Maybe the start of my “minimalism” is to just get rid of shit that means nothing to me – the nails, the saw, the string, paint cans – all of those “just in case” items, and really focus on the things that do – the comforter that Jeff’s nanna made for him.

Maybe it’s about really loving the things that are important, and hoping someone will care for them, even for a moment, one day.

It’s time to pull Jeff’s nanna’s comforter out of the linen closet and hang it on a wall (it’s too small to use), and my great great great grandmother’s and my baby earrings are going to hang gratefully from the extra holes in my ears (yay to being a rebel!).

But there’s are a lot of empty possessions in the garage. Maybe those things can go. Maybe we can curate the rest as if they were for a gallery.

We all want to make a difference. Even the craziest of serial killers are looking to make a difference. Otherwise, we wonder, what are we here for?

Jeff and I will live on in the minds of some. But we’ll be largely forgotten, because we had no kids. I feel sad about that. But there’s very little I can do about it. So I’d better live a great life while I can.

So I wonder, when I’m dead will Holly care more that I left her a collection of Rolling Stone Mags, or that I baked a really cool red velvet oreo cookie dough cake?

I wonder.